Simon Jenkins’s characterisation of the UK Covid-19 inquiry as a “pantomime” (This pantomime in Paddington is no way to right the wrongs of the Covid pandemic, 2 November) is as offensive as it is misguided. The inquiry seeks to understand and rectify the UK’s governmental decision-making process, and this cannot be achieved by a purely scientific analysis, as Mr Jenkins suggests.
One of the chief causes of the UK’s governmental dysfunction during the pandemic was the use of special advisers, a cohort of political appointees who sidelined both cabinet members and the democratic oversight of parliament. From the beginning of his administration, Boris Johnson viewed himself not as a prime minister in a cabinet with collective responsibility, but as a president, thus possessing dictatorial powers. It was therefore no surprise that he illegally prorogued parliament, purged his party of “dissenters” and refused to bow to the democratic process of his removal from office.
If the Covid inquiry rectifies this lurch towards a presidential style of administration, by curbing the number and powers of political appointees, it will have achieved a great deal.
Simon Jenkins is correct to criticise the Covid inquiry for looking for guilt rather than facts. The adversarial questioning and absence of any scientists on the panel means it is prone to distraction by personalities and “discussions” by the ministers, special advisers and civil servants.
Asking Dominic Cummings whether he thought he had contributed to the chaos in No 10 was as pointless as asking Boris Johnson whether he ever felt he was out of his depth, or Margaret Thatcher if she ever considered that she might be wrong.
Simon Jenkins asserts that the aim of the Covid inquiry is to “learn any lessons for the future” and states that there should be no blame game. This is tantamount to letting the decision-makers off the hook. While it’s probably too late to rewrite the terms of reference of the inquiry, thousands of families who lost loved ones as a direct result of a dysfunctional prime minister and his government will be simply looking for what is sadly missing in Mr Jenkins’s piece, namely accountability.
As someone who lost a relative to Covid in 2020 and who is following the Covid inquiry, I want to know who will be held accountable for the multiple levels of harm done to children, to families, to vulnerable people, to businesses and to livelihoods. I want some faith restored in our democracy and integrity restored. Boris Johnson has no redeemable characteristics – let this be the final proof of that, and what helps our society to heal.
I spent a large part of my career investigating claims of harassment and sex discrimination as well as general mismanagement in workplaces. I never found an office where there was misogyny but everything else was fine. I am not surprised to read that there was misogyny at No 10 and that the handling of the Covid crisis was a nightmare.
Portland, Maine, US